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West hasn't adequately armed Afghan forces, Karzai spokesman says

The remarks come in the wake of the deaths of 14 Afghan soldiers and security force members. The spokesman also said the West's military effort needs to focus more on developing Afghanistan.

December 21, 2010|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times
  • An Afghan police officer is carried away during a gun battle in Kunduz. Nine members of the security forces were killed in fighting there Sunday.
An Afghan police officer is carried away during a gun battle in Kunduz. Nine… (Fulad Hamdard / Associated…)

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — A day after 14 Afghan police officers and soldiers were killed in a pair of attacks by insurgents, President Hamid Karzai's spokesman said Monday that the West has not provided Afghan security forces with adequate weaponry.

The spokesman, Waheed Omar, also offered veiled criticism of President Obama's assessment of the war effort, parts of which were made public last week.

"There are some points in the review that the Afghanistan government welcomes … and there are some points we want to talk about," Omar told reporters in Kabul.

Specifically, he cited continuing friction over civilian casualties, Karzai's wish to disband the operations of private security companies, and potential disagreements over reaching a political settlement with the Taliban.

Omar also suggested that the West's massive military effort, which began nearly a decade ago, needed to be balanced with greater attention to economic development. "There should be more focus on the economics of Afghanistan," he said.

Training of the Afghan security forces is a key ingredient in Western plans to draw down the NATO force in the next few years. The United States and its European allies want the Afghan police and army to shoulder the bulk of security responsibilities by 2014, paving the way for a NATO pullback.

But Omar said efforts to build up the security forces hinged on arming them adequately.

"I would agree that time and effort was spent training the Afghan national army and police," he said. "But we will not agree that a lot of time and effort was spent in equipping the national security forces."

On Sunday, five Afghan soldiers were killed when Taliban fighters ambushed an army bus in Kabul, and nine members of the security forces were killed in a battle that broke out after a squad of insurgents attacked an army recruitment center in the northern city of Kunduz. Security across a wide swath of the country's north has deteriorated notably over the last year, amid a concerted U.S. military buildup in the south.

Compared with some of Karzai's confrontations with the West over the last year, the public criticism voiced by Omar on Monday was fairly mild. But as the war drags on, Karzai has at times appeared to be hedging his bets as to whether the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force can prevail.

Agreeing that recent military gains cited by American commanders are "reversible," Omar voiced hopes that Taliban foot soldiers would choose to lay down their weapons rather than fight on.

"There are Afghan Taliban who have taken arms against their government and people for many different reasons," he said. "We think we can address those reasons so … they can return to a peaceful and normal life."

Karzai's spokesman also said the new parliament was expected to be inaugurated Jan. 20 — more than four months after flawed and contentious voting for the lower house took place. The Sept. 18 vote came 13 months after the fraud-ridden balloting that returned Karzai to power for a second term.

Since then, the West has pressed the Afghan leader particularly hard on cleaning up corruption in his government. Karzai has pushed back with repeated complaints about how the war is being waged.

laura.king@latimes.com

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